Review of “God and the Pandemic”, by N. T. Wright

I always appreciate the writings of N. T. Wright. I first read him in college, when I was investing in historical Jesus studies. Wright’s work, captured in the tomes that are his “Israel and the People of God” series, is captivating, comprehensive, and life-changing. Since then, Wright made it a goal to reach general readers, which has made him a successful pop-culture author as well.

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

So when I saw his newly published reflections on the COVID pandemic, God and the Pandemic, I jumped at the chance to order the book. I suspected that Wright’s work would be fresh, insightful, and prayerful. We pastors are always in need of new ways to look at current events and speak faithfully to them from a biblical point of view, and I thought Wright would help me in that endeavor.

Upon reading God and the Pandemic, I could tell Wright wrote it during the height of the pandemic, and my guess is that we’ve come along way in our treatment and handling of COVID since he turned in his final draft. For that, Wright is courageous in waging his bets on providing a reflection that would still be relevant now, eight months into COVID.

In one sense, he avoided making his reflections time-sensitive by drawing readers to the larger, timeless biblical story and how the Bible might be helpful in negotiating a global crisis. He does so by dealing with texts surrounding theodicy (the study of the problem of evil in the world) that might help us negotiate collective grief and pandemic.

Wright argues, for instance, that the Old Testament deals very little with why evil happens, and focuses more on God’s provision and our response during such crises. In fact, the text is in conflict with itself: Some parts of the Hebrew Bible say that bad things happen because of sin, while other parts–such as Job–say that bad things happen to both good and bad people. The debate fits within an ancient worldview in which wrestling with God and text–rather than providing absolutes–frames narratives dealing with sinful people and a holy God.

The New Testament, where Wright is most at home, examines Jesus’ own commentary on this Hebrew debate concerning evil. Jesus focuses on repentance and response also. When Jesus’ disciples ask him why a certain man is born blind, for example, Jesus says that the man’s ailment is not a result of sin, but that “God’s glory might be shown through him.” Jesus does not provide answers to the “why” of evil or of pandemics, but reinforces accountability to get right with God.

This biblical thread upholds Wright’s thesis, which is not to ‘jump to solutions’ but see how our response may fit the moment. The response for which he argues, therefore, is on the side of lament. “When we are caught up in … awful plagues,” he writes, “We are to lament, we are to complain, we are to state the case, and leave it with God.”

This notion is actually one I can support, but I wish Wright went further. His biblical treatment is handy, but his pastoral suggestions are a bit lacking. I support the need to lament, and our national stress and divisive politics points to the fact that we need to cry and repent more than anything else. Yet, I am left asking what creative word might there be to move beyond lament, to a call to national prayer, repentance, and humility.

Leaving it with God is a good suggestion, but we need more to go on because our congregations will not be satisfied when our answer to the loss of over 230,000 lives is simply, “leave it with God.” I know Wright’s book offers more than that–and it is worth reading because it is clear, concise, and authoritative (especially if you’ve never read Wright before). Nor do I want to simplify or miss-characterize his reflection, which is very well done; but I finished the book wanting–and needing–more.

Lessons from Election Day

Imagining the 2024 Electoral Map After Redistricting - Electoral Vote Map

It is noon the day after the election, and we still are unsure as to who will lead our country for the next four years.  Pollsters and prognosticators tried to avoid uncertainty; graphs and charts showed us all the various ways people vote and possible outcomes.  But people–and the science behind elections–are always approximations, and most of those folks are now humbled. 

What can we learn from the election?  That whoever wins will only win by a small margin, and that our country is in fact deeply divided.  There are no tidal-waves of victories, and both of these candidates for president will have to learn to lead the entire nation, not just a portion of it.

This small margin–and the divide of electoral politics in our county–shows us the value and deeply held conviction of not getting partisan in the pulpit pays off.  Christ’s church doesn’t choose sides, it always chooses Christ because He is our sole Lord and Savior to whom we give ALL allegiance. 

The question is not whether we will enter the divisive fray–God’s kingdom stands above and against that–but whether Christ will find us faithful to the Gospel call in ministering to all people, even aspiring to bring the Gospel message as a balm of healing to a divided nation. 

Our mission isn’t to get one or another politician elected, its to serve as ambassadors for Christ. 

In his second letter to churches in Corinth, Paul wrote to a divided community.  He claimed over and over that they are united in Christ, and that they were to embody a “ministry of reconciliation.”  In 2 Corinthians 5, he wrote, 

“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer to themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation”  

So while people fight, litigate, and use the rhetoric of divisive politics, we rise with Christ to the “heavenly places” to demonstrate the unity of the church, the power of God’s love, and the healing reconciliation of the Good News of Christ’s lordship and salvation.  

Choose whom you will serve this day!